Legally making $1 per day or illegally $10 is an easy choice
They often live on the boundaries of Africa’s national parks, reserves and wildlife areas and they most of the time work for powerful, (inter)national crime syndicates. The poorest of the poor are targeted to commit offences that, when lucky, get them jailed and, when unlucky, get them killed.
They sometimes live for weeks on end in the bush and don’t wash as not to scare the wildlife they are after. They lead a terrible life: Africa’s poachers.
In recent months the amount of rhinos being killed for their horns has, especially in South Africa, reached a critical level. Another grey fellow, the elephant, is not in a much better position and although preservation efforts since the ‘70’s have yielded success, the biggest of land mammals might soon be into trouble again.
But worst off might be an animal that we all cherish deeply: the African lion. Where Africa still had 200 thousand lions during the ninety fifties, the continent is left with a mere 20 thousand. That is a decline of 90% in just fifty years!
Wildlife is still the number one reason why tourists visit the African continent. Yet, that same wildlife is under serious threat and if nothing gets done we might as well forget tourism in Africa as one of the main income earners. Money that is so desperately needed to lift Africa to a higher level on the world’s ladder of poor continents.
Reasons for poaching
Unfortunately there are many reasons why all these animals are under siege and poaching is rife. Corruption, poverty, hunger, witchcraft, loss of cattle and crops and an international demand for exotic products all have the incentive of ‘money’ embedded in them.
The desperate guy trying to scramble a meal together for his family and thereby snares or shoots an animal can be forgiven in my opinion. The same goes for the wacky witchcraft doctor nabbing an animal to grind its intestines for some dubious potion. More difficult does it get when we look at the Maasai culture where traditionally young men had to kill a lion to become a ‘man’, a practice that was stopped by the Kenyan government some time back.
But it becomes a completely different ball game if the reason for killing wildlife is of a business-like nature and big bucks get involved. The price for rhino horn in the far east has increased to such a level that it gets more and more tempting for poachers to try their luck. Tigers (which don’t appear in Africa) which are being used for medicinal uses are so rare now, that the few remaining ones are heavily guarded and the African lion is being targeted as an alternative.
Another reason for poaching wildlife is the killing of cattle by carnivores and the trampling of crops by elephants. The provision to compensate farmers for damages plays an important role here and if absent might result in wildlife being poisoned.
That the discussion doesn’t stop here is made clear by SADC (Southern African Development Community) that threatens to pull out of CITES, that during its last convention in Doha, refused to downgrade the African elephant , resulting in a ban on the sale of ivory stocks being stacked high in warehouses all over the continent. Again it is money that is of importance and not the wellbeing of the species, although we should ask ourselves who owns this wildlife and who should therefore have a say in it? And should these poor poachers be punished or is it the demand side that should get targeted?
If it wasn’t for the poor in Africa, poaching and the (illegal)wildlife trade would not flourish as it does now, at least it would be on a much smaller scale. That does not mean that a corrupt head of state would not try to get his hands bloody and his pockets filled, but it would be a hell of a lot more difficult to find a guy being willing to risk his life for poaching.
A new approach which has shown results is the employment of notorious poachers into conservation efforts. They are incorporated into anti-poaching units and now make money out of hunting down their old buddies.
Another successful initiative has been made by the Lion Guardians in Kenya. This program aims to employ Maasai warriors to protect lions instead of hunting them down.
That there is no easy solution to this worldwide problem is clear. A problem that only gets aggravated by differences in thinking between the rich and the poor, the North and the South. African governments saying it is their wildlife, despite all the pressure and comments from non-Africans, doesn’t make the discussion and problem solving easier.
One thing all agree on though. If we can reduce poverty, the fate of the poor African and the fate of a lot of animals and therefore the preservation of biodiversity will benefit tremendously. But that doesn’t make the situation for poachers any better. At least not yet.
What would you do if you were in the shoes of a poor African living next to a national park where rich tourist come to view wildlife being worth a lot of money?